ASAA   Europe



There is little doubt that today's tactical equipment market offers a wider variety than ever before. From firearms, to rappelling seats, ropes, tactical vests, to boots and uniforms, never before has such a selection been available. Yet, although much has been said about all of these items, little attention has been paid to one of the most critical – binoculars.

That's right, binoculars. Precision rifles capable of sub-1/2 MOA accuracy are now fairly common. Telescopic sights are unparalleled. Even boots are better than ever before. But after we spend a fortune on all of our tactical gear, we all too often forget that binoculars are critical. After all, it doesn't matter much how accurate that rifle is or how cool its telescopic sight might be when you can'' find the target or, nearly as bad, can't get a clear view of it in order to engage it.

This can quite literally make the difference between life and death –the life of a hostage, perhaps. Or maybe a couple of men on the trail, if in a military environment. Indeed, an ambush can be costly. I know…I've been there, too many times, on both ends of the guns. A police sharpshooter can't eliminate an armed, barricaded suspect when he can't see him clearly. Too many shots have been blown as a result, causing unnecessary death and injury.

And even those who consider binoculars generally take the "bargain basement" approach, buying cheap rigs that don't provide maximum performance in the field and usually suffer from a short service life as well because of their poor quality. This is like buying a $5000 rifle that shoots ¼-MOA and then putting a $100 telescopic sight on it. It doesn't make much difference how well it shoots, when you can't see the target well, does it? Well, binoculars should be regarded in the same way.

"But good binoculars are expensive!" you say. Perhaps, but you paid top dollar for everything else, didn't you" Why? Because you wanted the very best if you had to bet your life on it, that's why! And there's nothing wrong with that…after all, like the old saying goes, how much is your life worth? Well, then, paying the necessary tariff for a good pair of binoculars shouldn't bother you, either. As far as I'm concerned, a good pair of binos pays for itself the first time you take them into the field – they're that important!

Steiner optics have been around for some years now and offer a wide variety of binoculars. They're appropriate for nearly every possible purpose one can imagine and come in a huge selection of sizes, magnification and configurations. Made in Germany, they've been adopted in one form or another by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and myriad police tactical (SWAT) units, which says a lot for them. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is tougher on optical devices than the military environment.

This isn't because military personnel are clods; far from it. In fact, some of the best and brightest of our men are in U.S. Special Forces or the Rangers, U.S. Navy SEALs, USAF Combat Control Teams and USMC Force Recon. I work on both a training and often an operational basis with these guys all the time and I can tell you that they're truly top-level personnel. It's just that the military mission is a broad and all-encompassing one. It demands maximum effectiveness whether it's hot or cold, wet or dry, light or dark and whether one is calm or scared out of his wits.

That's a tall order, guys…a really tall order. And yet, tough or not, the order must be fulfilled. This means that the equipment used must be tough, but user-friendly; as compact and light as possible, yet capable of absolute maximum efficiency levels on demand. In the case of binoculars, the toughness factor is especially critical, because, as we all know, optical devices are inherently fragile and cannot withstand a whole lot of abuse.

This is why MilSpec was established – to provide our personnel with the best possible gear. And it's also why equipment that meets MilSpec standards is noticeably more expensive. Interestingly, however, the price differential of equipment that does or does not meet MilSpec isn't as wide as you might think. In fact, superior performance aside, it's pretty much in keeping with the old axiom that paying a few bucks more for the best is, in the long run, actually cheaper.

Why? Simple -- you only buy it once. To settle for less nearly always results in not only poorer performance in the field, but constant repairs and a considerably shorter service life. When you use the best, even if it breaks, the maker generally provides a long-term warranty that guarantees it will be either fixed or replaced no questions asked.

Steiner Optics are one of the very best in the business because they meet all of these prerequisites. Their binoculars are tough, super-clear, gather light exceptionally well, and as compact and lightweight as their particular missions allow. All lenses are either HD or CAT-coated for best ambient light gathering and reflection. All are waterproof, shockproof to 20Gs, come with a useable carrying strap, and feature individual eyepiece focus. They're also rubber armored in olive drab, providing a nice non-slip surface and good camouflage as well.

In particular, three of Steiner's units appeal to me. First, for general-purpose field surveillance, their 8x30mm Military B Tactical unit is unsurpassed. Weighing only 18 ounces and using the US military M2 reticle design, it isn't much bigger than a paperback book, allowing an easy fit into a coat or cargo pocket. However, its color adjusted optics allow excellent light gathering and clarity under a wide variety of field conditions, including rain, fog and haze.

Second, for low-light situations, I really like the 8x56mm Nighthunter. Though about 30% larger than the 8x30mm Military Tactical B, the Nighthunter is the nearest thing that a binocular can come to being a starlight scope. Since the vast majority of tactical situations occur during low-light periods, the fact that it weighs a bit more (41 oz.), isn't a drawback, either. It is, in my opinion, the brightest, sharpest, clearest pair of low-light binocs I've ever used.

In fact, using them during a recent ASAA field-training exercise, I was able to spot an adversary sharpshooter from a full 300 meters, in spite of the fact he was wearing a ghillie suit and hiding in the bushes and that's not all – it was nearly dark at the time. Normal binoculars are nearly useless under such conditions.

In fact, I was able to photograph him through my pair of Nighthunters, then call him on the radio and tell him he was officially "dead" and thus out of the exercise. He couldn't believe I'd seen him, responding that my radio call had been the first indication to him of my presence in the area, even though he'd been using regular 7x30mm field glasses to try and spot me coming.

Third, for really long-rang spotting, I find the 20x80mm Senator unbeatable. The largest of Steiner's binoculars, it's still less bulky than a standard monocular spotting scope and offers the additional advantage of better user comfort due to the stereoscopic vision it allows. Those who've ever experienced the eyestrain that comes from using a regular spotting scope in the field will know all too well what I mean!

Still, even though it's 20-power, the Senator is exceptionally clear and bright (something a spotting scope is not, especially on cloudy days). As well, when mounted on a small tripod, it can be used for surveillance, target detection and target identification with a high degree of efficiency. In fact, the Senator is so good that from 500 meters, I was able to detect a camouflaged adversary waiting in ambush and photograph him!

Again, his first indication of my presence was when I called him on the radio and told him he was "dead." And, as with the aforementioned sharpshooter/8x56mm Nighthunter episode, he had been watching the area with regular binoculars but failed to see me first. Damn, I love to count coup on adversaries, don't you? Translated to a tactical situation, seeing the enemy first usually means the difference between mission success and failure, which in turn usually means unnecessary injury or death.

In conclusion, then, Steiner's binoculars in general and the 8x30mm Military B Tactical, 8x56mm Nighthunter and 20x80mm Senator in particular are well worth your consideration. Though not cheap by any means, they offer maximum efficiency, user-friendliness and ruggedness for a fair price. In addition, they're warranteed against defects and breakage, come with olive-drab rubber armor, coated lenses, individually focussed eye-pieces and a useable carrying strap. When the chips are down and lives hang in the balance, they won't let you down.




Additional information about ASAA is available. Please email me directly at:

American Small Arms Academy
PO Box 12111
Prescott, AZ 86304

2003 Chuck Taylor's American Small Arms Academy, All rights reserved.